As Ted Lasso gets more folks on the promotion/relegation bandwagon for American sports, I think there’s an important point to be made.
The real juice of those systems is their openness. By openness, I mean anybody can start a sports club and enter a team from that club somewhere on the open pyramid. They don’t have to get approval from the other owners of a closed league to do so.
Promotion/relegation then should emerge as the way to slot those clubs into a competitive structure that makes sense based on how good they are, not necessarily how many tickets they sell or how many people watch them on TV in their home market.
I see American soccer moving toward a closed promotion/relegation structure, where there will be promotion/relegation between the closed leagues that still require approval from the other team owners in those leagues to gain entry.
What I predict will happen is that might make things 10-20% more interesting, but it isn’t going to quintuple or 10x support for soccer and then detractors will say, “See, pro/rel doesn’t work!”
But, pro/rel without the openness is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse, it’s just another blah amusement park to make for an easy weekend get away for the locals, but it isn’t going to draw much beyond that.
Why is openness so important?
Because it encourages competition and trials. It will also result in a fair amount of failures, which opponents of open systems point to as a bug. But, I think it’s a feature. It’s the same feature that helps open markets work.
From those failures, we learn some valuable things, like what doesn’t work. As Edison said for each failed attempt to find a filament material for the light bulb, that was just one more thing they tried that didn’t work. Now they know.
I know that provides no comfort to the players and employees of clubs that fail, but I fail to understand why they should have any more guarantees to their job as the rest of us who work for companies that can and do fail.
On the flip side, allowing such openness also occasionally generates some unexpected successes that you would never discover under a closed system that assumes things like ‘you need at least a market of a million in population to support one team.’
For example, you might discover that a market of a million might be able to support multiple teams and spawn some huge crosstown rivalries. Or, you might find that there’s a few dozen small markets that really, really love the sport that can produce clubs that are wildly successful beyond what the experts thought was too small to work.